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THE SEQUEL: THE FIFTEENTH AMENDMENT, THE NINETEENTH AMENDMENT, AND SOUTHERN BLACK WOMEN'S STRUGGLE TO VOTE

  • Liette Gidlow (a1)

Abstract

This essay reframes both the woman suffrage narrative and narratives of African American voting rights struggles by focusing on the experiences of southern African American women between the 1870s and the 1920s. It argues that the Fifteenth Amendment remained central to their suffrage strategy long after the failure of the “New Departure” to win court sanction caused white suffragists to abandon it. As white supremacists in the South worked at the turn of the century to disfranchise black men, leading African American suffragists such as Mary Church Terrell, Gertrude Bustill Mossell, and Adella Hunt Logan called for the enforcement of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments as well as the enfranchisement of black women. After the federal woman suffrage amendment was ratified in 1920, many southern African American women encountered the same barriers to voting—obstructionist tactics, threats, and violence—that black men had faced a generation earlier. In short, for aspiring African American voters in the South, the failure of the Nineteenth Amendment to secure voting rights for black women constituted a sad sequel to the failure of the Fifteenth Amendment to secure voting rights for black men.

This interpretation offers three significant interventions. It pairs the Reconstruction-era Amendments with the Nineteenth Amendment, recognizing their shared focus on voting rights. It connects the voting rights struggles of southern African Americans across genders and generations. Finally, it finds that, for some women, the canonical “century of struggle” for voting rights continued long after the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified.

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NOTES

1 Lula Murry to Hon. Calvin Collidge [sic], Oct. 17, 1923, RG 60, Classified Subject Files, Correspondence, Department of Justice Central Files (hereafter “DOJ Files”), Archives II, College Park, MD. My thanks to Laura Edwards, Mia Bay, and the anonymous readers at JGAPE for their helpful comments. This research was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and Wayne State University Office of the Provost and Humanities Center. An earlier version of this work was presented at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies 2017 symposium on “Emancipations, Reconstructions, and Revolutions: African American Politics in the Long 19th Century.”

2 On the substantial numbers of women, including but not limited to black women, who remained disfranchised after 1920, see Liette Gidlow, “Resistance after Ratification: The Nineteenth Amendment, African American Women, and the Problem of Female Disfranchisement after 1920,” Women and Social Movements in the U.S., 1600–2000 (hereafter “WASM”) 21 (Mar. 2017), available at http://womhist.alexanderstreet.com/index.htm.

3 The 90 percent figure comes from Foner, Eric, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877 (New York: HarperCollins, 1988), 291. On the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and black voting rights, see Wesley, Charles H., Negro Citizenship in the United States: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Negro-American, Its Concepts and Developments, 1868–1968 (Washington, DC: Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, 1968); Wesley, Charles H., The Fifteenth Amendment and Black America, 1870–1970 (Washington, DC: Associated Publishers, 1970); Edwards, Laura F., A Legal History of the Civil War and Reconstruction (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), esp. 105–10. On African American men's voting in the South during and after Reconstruction, see Hahn, Steven, A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003); Holt, Thomas, Black over White: Negro Political Leadership in South Carolina During Reconstruction (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977), esp. 26–40.

4 On the disfranchisement of African American men in the South, see Perman, Michael, Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888–1908 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001); Kousser, J. Morgan, The Shaping of Southern Politics: Suffrage Restriction and the Establishment of the One-Party South (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1974); Hahn, A Nation Under Our Feet, 366–67, 442–50.

5 Cott, Nancy F., “Across the Great Divide: Women in Politics Before and After 1920” in Women, Politics, and Change, eds. Tilly, Louise and Gurin, Patricia (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1990), 153–76.

6 Among the many accounts of the fracturing of the abolition/suffrage coalition and the consequences of that split over time, see Dudden, Faye E., Fighting Chance: The Struggle Over Woman Suffrage and Black Suffrage in Reconstruction America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn, African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850–1920 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998); Newman, Louise, White Women's Rights: The Racial Origins of Feminism in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); Flexner, Eleanor, Century of Struggle: The Woman's Rights Movement in the United States (New York: Atheneum, 1974); Kraditor, Aileen S., The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, 1890–1920 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965); DuBois, Ellen Carol, Woman Suffrage and Women's Rights (New York: New York University Press, 1998); Ginzberg, Lori D., Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life (New York: Hill and Wang, 2009).

7 Jones, Martha S., All Bound up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture, 1830–1900 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007); Terborg-Penn, African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote; Giddings, Paula, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America, reprint ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 1984; New York, Perennial, 2001), esp. chap. 9; Hine, Darlene Clark and Thompson, Kathleen, A Shining Thread of Hope: The History of Black Women in America (New York: Broadway Books, 1999), 165239; Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks, Righteous Discontent: The Women's Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880–1920 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993). An essential source are the many essays in Gordon, Ann D. and Collier-Thomas, Bettye, eds., African American Women and the Vote, 1837–1965 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997), especially Gordon, “Introduction”; Terborg-Penn, “African American Women and the Vote: An Overview”; Elsa Barkley Brown, “To Catch the Vision of Freedom: Reconstructing Southern Black Women's Political History, 1865–1880”; and Cynthia Neverdon-Morton, “Advancement of the Race through African American Women's Organizations in the South, 1895–1925.”

8 Perman, Struggle for Mastery, 319.

9 Vile, John R., Encyclopedia of Constitutional Amendments, Proposed Amendments, and Amending Issues, 1789–1995 (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1996), 193–94; “Speech of Hon. Edward De V. Morrell, of Pennsylvania, in the House of Representatives, Monday, Apr. 4, 1904,” Daniel Murray Pamphlet Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, available at https://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/murray:@field(DOCID+@lit(lcrbmrpt2609div0)): (accessed Dec. 1, 2016); editorial, “The Fifteenth Amendment,” New York Age, Oct. 5, 1911, Tuskegee Institute News Clippings File (hereafter “TNCF”) (Sanford, NC: Microfilming Corp. of America, 1976), reel 1, frame 300; Chicago Defender, Feb. 5, 1916. See also the editorial, “Again the Fifteenth Amendment,” Elyria (OH) Telegram, July 14, 1917, TNCF, reel 6, frame 843.

10 George William Curtis, “Can New York Withdraw Its Assent?,” Harper's Weekly, Jan. 29, 1870, 66; Mrs. N. F. Mossell to editor, The Colored American, Mar. 24, 1900, 4, available at WASM (accessed Dec. 8, 2016); Brooklyn Eagle, quoted in Feldman, Glenn, Politics, Society, and the Klan in Alabama, 1915–1949, 2nd ed. (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1999), 52; editorial, “The Fifteenth Amendment,” New York Age, Oct. 5, 1911, TNCF.

11 On efforts to disfranchise or reform diverse “problem voters,” see Gidlow, Liette, The Big Vote: Gender, Consumer Culture, and the Politics of Exclusion, 1890s–1920s (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), 2426, 37–39; Keyssar, Alexander, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States (New York: Basic Books, 2000), Appendix Tables A.12, A. 13, A.14. On Oregon's racialized poll tax scheme, enacted in 1862 and applying the poll tax to “every ‘negro, Chinaman, Kanaka, or mulatto' in the state,” see Pascoe, Peggy, What Comes Naturally: Law and the Making of Race in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 79.

12 238 U.S. 347, 366, 362, available at https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/238/347 (accessed Nov. 21, 2016).

13 Mrs. N. F. Mossell, “Woman Suffrage,” New York Freeman, Dec. 26, 1885, 2; Mossell to editor, The Colored American, Mar. 24, 1900, 4. On African American voting as an expression of the community's interest, see Brown, “To Catch the Vision of Freedom,” 82–85.

14 Logan, Adella Hunt, “Woman Suffrage,” The Colored American Magazine (Sept. 1905), 487, 489, available at https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.b3793665;view=1up;seq=527 (accessed Dec. 28, 2016). On Logan, see Alexander, Adele Logan, Homelands and Waterways: The American Journey of the Bond Family, 1846–1926 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1999), 310–16.

15 Terrell, Mary Church, “Woman Suffrage and the 15th Amendment,” The Crisis 10, no. 4 (Aug. 1915): 191.

16 Wheeler, Marjorie Spruill, New Women of the New South: The Leaders of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the Southern States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 128–29, 161.

17 Wheeler, New Women of the New South, 143; O'Neal, Emmet, “The Susan B. Anthony Amendment. Effect of Its Ratification on the Rights of the States to Regulate and Control Suffrage and Elections,” Virginia Law Review 6, no. 5 (1920): 360, 344.

18 Wheeler, New Women of the New South, 129–30, 169, 163.

19 Hines, R. H. to “Sec., N.A.A.C.P.,” Sept. 18, 1918, Papers of the NAACP. Part 4, Voting Rights Campaign, 1916–1950, eds. Meier, August and Schipper, Martin Paul (Frederick, MD: University Publications of America, 1986).

20 Jeannette Carter, “Women Celebrate in Honor of Vote Right,” New York Age, Sept. 4, 1920, 1, available in WASM; Wheeler, New Women of the New South, 181.

21 Wheeler, New Women of the New South, 177.

22 For a fuller account of African American women's experiences as aspiring voters in the South in the fall of 1920, see Gidlow, “Resistance After Ratification.” On activism by African American veterans of the First World War, see Williams, Chad L., Torchbearers of Democracy: African American Soldiers in World War I Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010).

23 Baltimore Morning Sun, Sept. 30, 1920, TNCF, reel 12, frame 189; Buni, Andrew, The Negro in Virginia Politics, 1902–1965 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1967), 79; Gilmore, Glenda Elizabeth, Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896–1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 218–24; NAACP, “Disfranchisement of Colored Americans in the Presidential Election of 1920,” [Dec. 1920], 14, 18, Box C285, Group I, Records of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (hereafter “NAACP Records”), Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC; Jacksonville Metropolis, Sept. 30, 1920, TNCF, reel 12, frame 189; Schuyler, Lorraine Gates, The Weight of Their Votes: Southern Women and Political Leverage in the 1920s (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 2836; Brown, Nikki, Private Politics and Public Voices: Black Women's Activism from World War I to the New Deal (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), 147–48.

24 Brown, “To Catch the Vision of Freedom,” 82–85. See also Jones, All Bound Up Together, 142–49; and Holt, Black Over White, 34–35. This sense of responsibility extended across regional lines. On “proxy voting” by African American women outside the South on behalf of disfranchised blacks in the South, see Materson, Lisa G., For the Freedom of Her Race: Black Women and Electoral Politics in Illinois, 1877–1932 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), esp. chap. 2.

25 Winegarten, Ruth, ed., Black Texas Women: 150 Years of Trial and Triumph (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995), 207; Baltimore Afro American, Sept. 24, 1920, TNCF, reel 12, frame 189; NAACP, “Disfranchisement,” [Dec. 1920], 20, 12.

26 NAACP, “Disfranchisement,” [Dec. 1920], 19; T. G. Garrett to “The N.A.A.C.P.,” Oct. 30, 1920, Group I, Box C284, NAACP Records; typescript, [Addie W. Hunton], “Phoebus” [Oct. 25, 1920], Box C284, Group I, NAACP Records; Bunche, Ralph J., “The Negro in the Political Life of the United States,” Journal of Negro Education 10, no. 3 (1941): 571; S. S. Humbert to the NAACP, Nov. 9, 1920, Box C284, Group I, NAACP Records; [New York] News, Feb 27, 1919 [?], reel 20, frame 127, TNCF.

27 [Alexander Akerman] to Sen. William C. Kenyon, Nov. 6, 1920; and Walter White to James C. Cobb, Dec. 10, 1920, both in Box C284, Group 1, NAACP Records; Jacksonville, FL Times-Union, Nov. 3, 1920, in Group 2, Box L265, NAACP Records. On the 1919 Jacksonville lynchings and the tense election season there in 1920, see Cassanello, Robert, To Render Invisible: Jim Crow and Public Life in New South Jacksonville (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2013), 140, 145–49; and Ortiz, Paul, Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 219–20.

28 Arthur Ivey to Hon. Calvin Coolidge, Oct. 16, 1923, DOJ Files.

29 [Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)] Report, W. B. Poole, Atlanta, Georgia, Jan. 18, 1926, “SUBJECT, A Colored Woman,” DOJ Files; “Declaration of Incorporation of Ex-Soldiers Co-Operative Association, Inc.,” Dec. 11, 1925; Lula B. Murry to [U.S.] Department of Justice, [c. Jan. 6, 1926]; petition, Executive Representatives of the Ex-Soldiers Co-operative Association to the Honorable Calvin Coolidge, Feb. 1, 1926, all in DOJ Files.

30 FBI Report, W. B. Poole, Jan. 18, 1926, DOJ Files.

31 FBI Report, W. B. Poole, Jan. 18, 1926, DOJ Files.

32 C. B. Kennemer to Attorney General, Jan. 20, 1926, DOJ Files.

33 Mary Church Terrell, “An Appeal to Colored Women to Vote and Do Their Duty in Politics,” [1921], available in WASM.

34 On the expansion of the white primary as a response to the pressure created by black voters, women and men, after ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, see Gidlow, “Resistance After Ratification.”

35 Liette Gidlow, “We Must Protect Voting Rights,” Detroit News, Jan. 14, 2018, available at http://www.detroitnews.com/story/opinion/2018/01/14/voting-rights/109469068/ (accessed Jan. 17, 2018).

36 Andrew Kaczynski, “Roy Moore in 2011: Getting Rid of Amendments After 10th Would ‘Eliminate Many Problems.’” CNN, Dec. 12, 2017. Available at https://www.cnn.com/2017/12/10/politics/kfile-roy-moore-aroostook-watchmen/index.html (accessed Feb. 12, 2018).

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